With the successful completion of final training sessions, three new Expedition 48 crew members confirmed their readiness for the upcoming flight to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard an upgraded Soyuz MS spacecraft. The crew is all set to be launched from the Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:36 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 6 (1:36 GMT, Thursday, July 7).
The flight, initially scheduled for June 24, was delayed due to spacecraft’s software glitches that could affect the docking with the ISS. The mission, received designation Soyuz MS-01 as it is the first flight of the upgraded Soyuz vehicle. As usual, the spacecraft will be launched atop Russia’s workhorse Soyuz-FG booster, designed for manned missions.
The crew consists of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and astronaut Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The trio will spend approximately four months on the orbital laboratory as their return is scheduled for October. The backup crew for this mission is comprised of NASA’s Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet of ESA.
The journey to ISS will take more than two days, during which the crew is expected to test modified systems of the spacecraft. Docking to the Space Station’s Rassvet module is scheduled at 12:12 a.m. EDT (4:12 GMT) Saturday, July 9. The newly arrived crew will be greeted by Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams of NASA, as well as Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, when the hatches are opened nearly three hours after docking. Shortly after arrival, the new residents will say hello to family and mission officials and then receive a safety briefing commencing their ISS mission full of science experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.
Wednesday’s flight will be the first orbital mission for Rubins and Onishi, while Ivanishin has already flown to space. The Russian cosmonaut was a flight engineer of the Expedition 29/30 to ISS. He was launched to space on Nov. 14, 2011 and returned to Earth on Apr. 27, 2012. Due to his spaceflight experience, he will now serve as the mission commander during the upcoming flight.
In order to be fully prepared for the spaceflight, the primary and backup crews arrived at Baikonur on June 24 to conduct final training sessions. They tried on their Sokol-KV spacesuits and took seats in the Soyuz MS spacecraft, just after carrying out leak tests. The crews checked the radio communications system, the laser range finder and got familiar with the onboard documentation. They studied the mission plan and the manifest of cargoes to be delivered to the ISS.
Afterwards, continuing a busy week of pre-flight preparations, the crews practiced manual docking activities of the spacecraft to the ISS. They also checked the kits with scientific equipment and trained the upcoming ballistic operations and other preparatory procedures.
The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft was filled with propellant and compressed gases on June 27. Next, it was brought into the spacecraft processing facility and installed into a jig for further pre-launch processing. On the next day, the spacecraft was mated to the adapter section of the launch vehicle and was ready for final inspections that were carried out on June 30. Then, it was encapsulated in a payload fairing and was installed on the rocket. The Soyuz-FG, with the spacecraft on top, will be rolled out to the launch pad two days before planned liftoff.
Developed by RKK Energia, the seven-metric-ton Soyuz MS spacecraft is a modified version of the Russia’s flagship Soyuz TMA crewed vehicle currently transporting international crews to ISS. The upgrades include an improved position control engine and a GLONASS/GPS system. The spacecraft also has a new approach and docking system, a new computer, and more power efficient solar panels.
“The new-model spacecraft are equipped with an advanced onboard radio system for rendezvous and docking Kurs-NA. As compared with an earlier model, Kurs-A, it has improved mass and dimensions parameters and makes it possible to delete from the spacecraft hardware configuration one of the three radio antennas,” RKK Energia reveals on its website.
According to the Soyuz MS manufacturer, thanks to the use of new ground and onboard radio systems, it became possible to use state-of-the-art data transmission protocols, which resulted in improved operational stability of spacecraft control system. The company also notes that most of the technical solutions embedded in the structure of this vehicle will be used for creating Russia’s new generation manned transport spacecraft called “Federation”.
The Soyuz-FG measures some 162 ft. (49.5 meters) in height and weighs an estimated 305 metric tons at liftoff. The rocket is capable of carrying more than seven metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). It is a three-stage rocket that utilizes a core stage that burns throughout the first and second stage portions of the flight. Stage one is composed of the Core Stage and four strap-on boosters.
These four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters provide extra lift during the initial phase of the flight. Before liftoff, all four of the boosters are ignited to reach full thrust and then are jettisoned once their fuel tanks are empty.
Wednesday’s launch will be the second crewed mission to the ISS this year and the 130th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft overall. Two more Soyuz MS missions are planned to be conducted before the end of 2016. The next launch is currently scheduled for September 23.
Portions of the space station have been on orbit since 1998 and the multi-national facility, which has some 16 different countries working together, is currently scheduled to remain on orbit until at least 2024.